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Board Approves Research Facility

By Nathan Collins

NEWS EDITOR

The Cambridge Planning Board has cleared a final hurdle in the way of developing a research facility across the street from the Sidney-Pacific graduate residence.

Voting six to one Tuesday night, the board approved a request by Forest City, the University Park developer, to delete the portion of a 1999 special permit for construction at 100 Landsdowne Street that suggested the site would be used for housing.

Forest City Senior Vice President for Development and Planning Peter B. Calkins said that investments “have to be made with appropriate fiduciary care,” and that market considerations favored research space over housing right now.

Decision based on rules

The Planning Board decided the matter on largely procedural grounds. Planning Board Chair Thomas Anninger described the permit, an Interim Planning Overlay Permit, or IPOP, as “just an interim traffic ordinance.” University Park zoning did not require housing at 100 Landsdowne, and the “special permit did not constitute new zoning,” so there was no reason not to let Forest City develop a research facility, he said.

“Housing is a better use [but] the question is not whether we prefer housing,” said Vice Chair Barbara Shaw. The question, she said, was whether the buildings covered by the special permit were dependent on each other. “Indeed they are not,” she said.

“It pains me to say so,” said Board Member Clarissa Brown, but “from a procedural point of view,” the board should approve the deletion.

Zoning “is a matter for the City Council, which it never took up,” Anninger said. Since housing requirements in the University Park master plan and zoning laws were met, the Board had no choice but to approve Forest City’s request, he said.

Some prefer housing

William Tibbs, the only board member to vote against the motion, said that “Forest City is not obliged to make housing,” but he thinks “housing is a better plan.”

Jeffrey C. Roberts G, Sidney-Pacific outreach chair, said he was disappointed by the board’s decision. The reason for special permits, he said, is to ensure that large projects have “a positive and lasting impact” and to take into account “the interests of the larger Cambridge community.”

Roberts said he sides with Tibbs, who argued that the board should include planning issues in its deliberations and not just consider procedural questions.

Though few board members made the argument explicit, it was clear that some thought Forest City’s plans were acceptable from a planning point of view. Anninger said that housing planned for 23 Sidney Street “is very much part” of his reasoning. Russell listed several planning criteria and argued that Forest City’s plans met those criteria. “We have a mixed use district, and we believe it’s working okay,” he said about whether a development would have an adverse impact on a neighborhood, one of the points they considered.

Roberts disagreed, “in the sense that [a research facility] doesn’t contribute positively” to the area.

Deletion possibly unnecessary

Forest City has worked since last fall to delete 100 Landsdowne from the 1999 IPOP and, in so doing, avoid tougher legal issues. “There were some discussions as to whether this was necessary or not,” Calkins said.

The underlying zoning laws and University Park master plan might have meant that the special permit could be ignored, but since some buildings were already built, there were questions about whether Forest City was required to follow through with the plans laid out in the IPOP, Calkins said. Forest City then pursued deleting 100 Landsdowne from the IPOP.

The board was to vote last month on whether to approve Forest City’s deletion request, but the vote was postponed when some board members could not be present for discussions.